I fall in love at a rate of about once per week when I'm on the road. And since I spent four mesmerizing September weeks lost in the forests and interstates of the western United States, I should, by my own calculations, be carrying at least four torches, each burning somewhere between a flicker and a firestorm. So let me now pay testament to the gorgeous eyes of that brunette from Pennsylvania whose kiss drove me to write her name in the Oregon sand; the corner boys of San Francisco's North Beach area, haunted still by the ghosts of Jack Kerouac; the eerie isolation that overcomes you driving stretches of Washington's Highway 101; and, much to my surprise, the music of a UK quartet I had ignored since their debut North American single, "Yellow," became frustratingly ubiquitous a few years ago.
Even after buying a copy of Coldplay's new album at a Borders in Tacoma, I wasn't expecting anything but a change of pace from days and nights and days of National Public Radio. Before hearing A Rush of Blood to the Head I was convinced Coldplay were no better than the sensitive Scots in Travis far too wimpy and earnest for their (and my) own good. But after one listen, I was a convert. Here again was an example of rock 'n' roll sneaking up from the most unlikely places and clarifying exactly how I felt about everything and everyone in my life, right as it was happening.
A Rush of Blood to the Head thrashes into existence with "Politik," its two repeated, bludgeoned chords full of life and demanding to be heard independent of any preconceptions about Coldplay. This is a young band, still defining itself. Don't forget that. "Open up your eyes/ Open up your eyes/ Open up your eyes." See what we have for you. There's a better way. From the first notes this is something special, the ideal antidote to the emotional vacuum of modern rock and the numbing effects of daily life. "Give me real/ Don't give me fake" whispers singer Chris Martin after the wave crests, and for the remaining 10 songs, every one a glistening diamond of sound and spirit, Coldplay do just that.
Sucker that I am for a love song, especially in the presence of the sea stacks of Bandon, Ore., in the midst of a newfound crush, I put on "The Scientist;" a worthy 2002 successor to Oasis' "Don't Look Back in Anger." It opens with a classic piano intro and gives way to a staggering love song, Martin shamelessly flitting from falsetto to cracked tenor as the rest of the band layers in heartbreak along the way. "I was just guessing at numbers and figures/ Pulling the puzzles apart/ Questions of science, science and progress/ Do not speak as loud as my heart." You need to hear this. The music is just as open and emotional, painting in broad strokes and riding out on a guitar outro that picks up on all the drama in the vocal performance and twists the song into something eternal. Live forever.
You can't discuss this record in any useful way unless you can somehow get across the majesty of the thing. This is the sound of a group of supremely confident musicians with something hugely populist and musically engaging to say. It recalls U2's The Joshua Tree, and not just for its stunning guitar work (take a bow, Jon Buckland, as you have most certainly arrived) but for its wild passion and spiraling tension-and-release dynamics. I drove through the desert of Southern California thinking that sounding both lost and still determined to live with passion has never sounded so stadium-friendly. But, of course, it has. Radiohead captured that vibe around the time of The Bends, but they abdicated that throne about the time the former king returned for all that he couldn't leave behind. And here then, finally, we have the heir. If the leap between debut album Parachutes and A Rush of Blood to the Head is prologue, Coldplay could be around for a long, long time.
"God Put a Smile Upon Your Face" is a lean guitar sidewinder with some sex appeal to it guitars and drums together, beat and note, rushing along into the chorus before slinking back to an eroticism that only shows up elsewhere on the title track, and then only with an undercurrent of menace. "I'm going to buy this place and start a fire/ Stand here until I fill all your heart's desire/ Because I'm going to buy this place and see it burn/ And do back the things it did to you in return." The wordless moan that follows only pulls you deeper into the song and its dark groove.
"Green Eyes" is a perfect acoustic lift halfway through the album, a folksy declaration of faith and love amidst the chaos and emotional ruin that connects "Warning Sign" and album closer "Amsterdam." Tonight, as memories of time away dance just out of memory's grasp, "Amsterdam" is my favorite song of the year. "Come on/ Oh my star is fading/ And I see no chance of release/ And I know I'm dead on the surface/ But I am screaming underneath."